6 Oct 2022

No More Positive or Negative... Why Helpful Thinking is Better

Have you ever come across “positive thinking”, or someone recommending “thinking positively”? Or maybe you’ve heard “you’re so negative” as a criticism.

I’m not so sure that positive and negative thinking are particularly useful terms. What I’ve found more beneficial is helpful thinking. Helpful thinking is about thinking most helpfully - whether that’s positively, negatively, laterally or not at all! Certain patterns of thinking can be particularly unhelpful. Maybe you are familiar with some of these:

How many of these can you relate to?


Do you often take one thing and quickly blowing it out of proportion? Or repeatedly moving from a small thing to a potential negative consequence until you reach a catastrophe? For example, the stock market goes down, you see the value the pension decreasing, you imagine what it’s like to feel poor, you’re wearing shabby clothes and before you know it you’re homeless.

Mind Reading

Are you always guessing that someone, or others, are thinking negatively about you.

'All or nothing' thinking

For example: making a small mistake and leaping to a conclusion that you are worthless or a failure.


Do you find that you describe yourself with a label rather than describing your behaviour (“I am stupid” rather than “I did a stupid thing”).


Do you use 'shoulds', 'oughts' and 'musts' all the time (“I should have’, “I ought to have” etc) so that you continually feel guilty or bad or worthless. “I should have started saving earlier!”


Are you continually telling yourself that you got to where you have by luck, or that anyone could have done it, so that your confidence never gets a chance to build.

What was your score?

Recognising the unhelpful pattern (maybe you notice yourself doing it as a habit) means that you can look to change the thinking.

Once you have noticed, ask yourself if there is any good reason for thinking this way. Is there evidence? Are your thoughts reasonable or justified? If not, then you can start to replace your thoughts with more helpful ones:

  • This current event/worry is ok, it’s normal. When I step back and see it from a wider perspective it’s still a big deal but not as big as I thought it was (stock markets going down is a good example)
  • I deserve to be here because I am here - based on who I am and my choices

The most helpful patterns of thinking are the ones that you come up with yourself, that work for you. These are not fantasies, but simply straightforward, truthful and helpful ways to think. They can be part of avoiding any long-term unhelpful thinking that is causing harm or even ill-health.

Pictured Below: 'Everyday Performance' by Jim Constable and Barry Wyatt – "an entertaining, informative and easy read on how to perform better at what you do!"

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